Tagged with " parliamentarians"

An unrealistic code for elections

Pick up any news item these days and there will be a connection with the Supreme Court in one way or the other. The spine recently developed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) also owes its existence to a Supreme Court directive, which resulted in a brand new code limiting the election expenses of a candidate to Rs1.5 million. Election candidates were banned from providing transport facilities to voters on election day and were prohibited from using other promotional tools. The sentiment is noble but the implementation of this code of conduct seems impossible for various reasons.
Given the state of inflation and the size of constituencies — particularly, for the National Assembly — the amount of Rs1.5 million is unrealistic. Well-heeled Pakistanis spend more on a valima; expecting candidates to woo around a hundred thousand voters per constituency on that budget would be a tad unreal. In addition, a lot of services during campaigns are provided without any monetary transaction. One supporter gets the banners printed while another provides tents for the jalsa and a third supporter does the catering for the aforementioned jalsa, free of cost. This makes the process of keeping the tabs very difficult.
The ECP also prohibits the political parties from hoisting party flags on public property or at any public place unless granted permission by the local government for a certain fee. Every city is already flooded with political flags of all colours and hues. The residents of Karachi will vouch that they have seen the political flags of all parties inundating their streets, making the street look like it is in a perpetual state of a campaign of some kind or other. The code of conduct is silent on how the ECP will get rid of the flags and whether is has the authority to order local governments to do so. Further, the removal of party flags is contingent upon local governments having the resources to remove them.
Wall chalking as part of an election campaign is also prohibited by the ECP along with the use of loudspeakers, barring election meetings. Again, controlling wall chalking would be a momentous task and the candidates can always say that their supporters and not their campaign teams are behind it.
Further, the ECP also forbids candidates to affix posters, hoardings or banners larger than the prescribed sizes for the campaign. Most urban centres and highways already sport larger than life hoardings of political leaders; the Sharif brothers in Rawalpindi, Lahore and Gujranwala, Asfandyar Wali in Charsadda and Peshawar, Altaf Hussain in Karachi and Hyderabad, Imran Khan in Lahore and Peshawar and the whole Bhutto clan almost everywhere in Pakistan. These hoardings do not ask voters to vote for any particular candidate during the election period. Hence, they are not related to any election campaign. Yet, they propagate the messages of various political parties and can affect the election process. The ECP’s code of conduct does not say anything about these advertisements.
The ECP also banned candidates from providing transport facilities to voters on election day, which, again, is essential for maintaining neutrality. However, it can adversely impact the percentage of voters, who will actually go out and vote. While limiting election expenses is a very commendable step for which ECP should be congratulated, it needs to make the code of conduct more realistic and must also come up with ways to implement it.

First published in The Express Tribune. 

This all pervasive misogyny

Every country has its fair share of misogynist politicians trying to tell women not to drive or have abortions, wear or not to wear burqa or contest elections, but Pakistan beats them all with the likes of Sheikh Alauddin who not only is openly misogynist, he is also ill mannered enough to call his colleagues – female members of Punjab Assembly – all kinds of names, names so impolite that not only some of the TV channels refused to air his tirade against women MPAs before censoring it, but the speaker of the assembly also had to get those nasty bits removed from the records. 
Women MPAs protested against his spiel about the non virtuous nature of his female colleagues, but when he refused to stop, Seemal Kamran, an MPA Pakistan Muslim League-Q threw a shoe at Alauddin and all hell broke loose. Ms. Kamran was barred from entering the assembly premises by the Speaker next day, was involved in a skirmish with the security guards and when she later tried to file an FIR against Sheikh Alauddin for harassment and misconduct at workplace, she was told that an FIR can only be filed against an MPA after directions from the speaker of the assembly.
It is sad to realize that misogyny is seeped so deep in our society that a woman as powerful as one sitting in the assembly cannot file a report against a co worker for workplace misconduct and harassment despite video evidence. It is so ironic that a place that is supposed to make laws for workplace harassment houses some of the worst offenders who have no qualms in calling their colleagues circus whores (the exact words of Sheikh Alauddin were maut ke kuwo-on mein nachnay wali aurtain among other things).
While some TV channels showed restrain and did not air the abusive language of Shaikh Alauddin, some other TV channels aired selective footage where Seemal Kamran threw a shoe at him but aired it with sensational copy and did not show the abusive and misogynist behavior and speaker’s lack of response which prompted that incident. People who have witnessed the assembly proceedings say that Kamran’s response may seem a little over the top but the women in Punjab assembly are only returning the favour after putting up with four years of verbal & physical abuse during assembly sessions. No wonder legislation against misogynist practices, domestic violence runs into snags repeatedly because our assemblies are full of people who consider misogyny a way of life.
It is also to be noted that Shiekh Alauddin’s rant against women MPAs has openly mocked the constitutional provision of reserved seats for women by calling them the group that violates the sanctity of the house. Election commission of Pakistan should take notice of this at soonest of it wants its authority as the supreme body for electoral process to be respected. 
Women rights groups demands action against Member Punjab Assembly, Sheikh Allauddin for using abusive language for women members of the house on 20th June 2012 which of course is an appropriate demand, but it is not just the action of one man, the incident represented a mindset that cannot accept women either in public spaces or in a position of power. We must condemn people like Alauddin for their reprehensible behavior but the society in general and women’s groups in particular need to look for ways to redress the way we view women in public spaces and positions of power and deal with this all pervasive misogyny. 
Originally written for  The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version.
Apr 12, 2012 - rant, Society, women    6 Comments

I want my space in national narrative and I want it NOW!

Bytes for All arranged a country wide forum on social media initiatives by youth on regional peace and security and I moderated a session with Senior Vice Chairperson of Awami National Party and member national assembly Bushra Gohar on role of women parliamentarians and politicians in democratic processes.
Before I express my disappointment on the Caucus’ official song and Ms. Gohar’s rather poor defence of it, I must point out that I have great respect for Bushra Gohar as a person and a professional capable woman. Ms. Gohar wanted to talk about the Women Caucus in the parliament and she opened her presentation with this Tina Sani song prepared for the Caucus which basically cements the patriarchal notion that only a woman who is covered in a chador is virtuous and worthy of respect and can be the face of a Pakistani woman. The song lyrics go like this: Anchal ko parcham bana rahain hain, hum waqt ke mailay daman pe umeed ujalay jaga rahain hain(the director of the video was so incredibly smart that he showed a woman washing clothes during the words waqt ke mailay daman pe – someone kill me already). When I asked Ms Gohar about the contributions of women who do not abide by the chadorand chardeewari philosophy and do not really have the so called anchals, ghooghatsand what not to turn into parchams? Should they be excluded from the national narrative because they do not conform to the majority’s idea of what is considered appropriate for women?  Bushra Gohar, much to my surprise, defended this song and said that that the song meant to convey the message of empowerment by turning women’s dupattas into national flag!!!
I know that no one knows there exist a song like this (the last I checked it had only 37 views on youtube and it was uploaded a good six months ago), no one actually cares about it and me fretting over it is kinda useless but I am sick and tired of being kept out of the national narrative because I am a woman who does not believe in chador and chardeewari. I live and work in Pakistan, I contribute to the economy and pay taxes which pays for the salaries of the police and army and the mostly useless executive but neither am I safe in this country, nor am I called the Qaum ki beti. Who is called Qaum ki beti? A woman named Aafia Siddiqui – an alleged terrorist whose legal defense fees is paid for by the very same taxes that I pay every year –and I am able to pay those taxes because I work and called a maghrabi aurat (westernized woman) who leaves the sanctity of her home everyday to go to work. You know what is most ironic? The so called Qaum ki beti has not even lived in this country for ages, she is a bloody US citizen.

I know it’s a silly song but I am tired of being relegated to sidelines because I am a woman and I make my own choices based on informed ideas rather than propaganda. I want my rightful space in the national narrative and I want it NOW!
Feb 24, 2012 - published work, women    6 Comments

Politics is far too important a business to be left to men alone

Pakistan is a strange country. While on one hand it has had the first female prime minister of the Muslim world and has the maximum percentage of women in its legislative assemblies in the region; politics has not been used as a tool of empowerment for women at the grassroots.
It is a curious paradox and the reasons can be as varied as politics being a classist business in the country to general lack of women’s access to public spaces. If political parties are scrutinized, most female politicians are either siblings or children of the party heads or are married into the political families. There are hardly any role models, if any, of women political workers who assumed a leadership position after serving their parties over a number of years. Political ascendency on meritorious grounds is a novel phenomenon in Pakistan but more so in case of women political workers.
With exception of Bushra Gohar and now Nasreen Jaleel, no other party barring ANP and MQM has women holding pivotal positions in their parties and they too need to do a lot more. MQM’s Rabta Committee has a disproportionate number of men and the regressive elements in ANP still bar women from exercising their right to vote – as late as November 2011 when all the eight contestants of the constituency KP61, Kohistan decided not to allow women to cast their votes.
Importance of being out and about in politics is obvious to anyone with passing interest in it. The women’s rally staged by MQM last weekend showed us that politics is far too important a business to be left to men alone.
In a country where women are losing ground in the public spaces and confining themselves to fit to the desired patriarchal norms, the rally and its message that a strong Pakistan is dependent on independent women was a timely reminder that women need to go out and reclaim the spaces they have receded and find newer avenues to call their own such as political space at the grassroots. 
MQM may have wanted to show the world that Karachi is still their home and other political upstarts have a long way to go before they lay any claims to the city but what also comes across from this is that women as voters and citizenry are important and must be viewed as such by other political powers. The large numbers that turned up also showed us that women are interested if they are taken seriously and want to engage in the political process.
It is about time the political parties realize that women are a political constituency and their concerns needs to be addressed and fought for, not only in the parliament but also in their party ranks. This is the election year, should we not demand all parties to include issues important to women in their election manifestos and genuinely try to bridge the gap that exists.
In politics, the importance of constituency cannot be overstated. The MQM rally brought to fore the fact that the constituency of women across the ethnic, racial, tribal and class exists and needs to be catered to by all the political parties. Women’s caucus in the parliament have voted across party lines on issues that mattered to them as a group most and if the parliament is a microcosm of society, it can happen at a macro level as well. 
First published in The Express Tribune

PS:  The reason I have only mentioned ANP and MQM is that these are the only two parties where women hold positions as central as  Senior Vice-President and Deputy Convener. PPP’s CEC has a fair number of women, in addition, there are a few female politicians from PTI,  and the high profile female parliamentarians of PML-Q. With Maryan Nawaz Shareef, even PML-N is trying to score with women and young adults.

Dr Babar Awan – What’s not to like?

The twittervesre is outraged at Dr Babar Awan, not because he had one of his usual bouts of tweeting with caps lock on, but because he was awarded the post of Vice President of Pakistan People’s Party. I can’t understand the animosity his appointment has garnered. Not only is he an educated man, he is also an astute lawyer, a good orator, a TV presenter par excellence, a  writer and man who speaks the language of our masters (no silly, everyone speaks English, he is fluent in Arabic). Seriously; what’s not to like? 

One can be a little perturbed at this development because how can a political party have a vice president when it does not have a president – Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Daddy Zardari share the chairmanship of the party – but this much anger on an appointment is a little misplaced. 

The appointment of the good doctor is quite befitting; after all, who else could have matched his towering personality and his innumerable accomplishments. The cynics think that party has other stalwarts who could have been better suited for the job, but no one comes even close. Named after the Mughal king, Zaheer-ud-din Babar, the new Vice President is a man amongst men. Aitezaz Ahsan and Sherry Rehman may have written an odd book or two about Indus River and Kashmiri shawls, but the esteemed barrister has authored several books. It is besides the point that no one seems to know the titles of the books and what those books are about. Unfortunately, a hurried Google search about his penmanship yielded no conclusive results. 

Rehman Malik may have been awarded an honorary doctorate degree from Karachi University, but Dr Babar Awan is heads and shoulders above his fellow party man. He does not wait for local universities to confer doctorates upon him; he invents a university as delicately named as Monticello – which perhaps reminds one of a high end spaghetti sauce or Thomas Jefferson – and bestow a doctorate upon himself.

Dr Babar Awan is also not a serial party hopper like some other dudes whose final destination seems to be PTI these days. He only jumped the ship once and has been with Pakistan People’s Party since 1990s. Wikipedia reports that his brother is part of a Mutahidda Qaumi Movement in Punjab but that is only to spread brotherhood and good cheer. I don’t see him joining Altaf Bhai any time soon.

Not just politicians, Dr Babar Awan can give TV personalities like Amir Liaquat and Sahir Lodhi a run for money. Unlike Amir Liaquat who carries the show on the basis of sheer verbosity and Sahir Lodhi who only moonlights as a religious presenter in Ramazan and is known more for his dance moves and questionable wardrobe, Dr Awan is a genuine bona fide religious scholar who used to present a show on religious laws on a local tv channel. The ratings of his show were however not available to be compared with the other two gentlemen.

What the naysayers do not get is that vice president ship of a party is a very significant post and cannot be given to just anyone. The reason this important post was given to Dr Babar Awan is that if there ever was a declamation or an oration  contest between vice chairmen and presidents of Pakistani political parties, Pakistan people’s party would not want to lose it to its erstwhile member and the new, asli tay vada and very senior vice chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf. 

A slightly edited version was first published in The Express Tribune 

Jun 12, 2008 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Sarkar Raj – Pakistan style

Here is another Member of National Assembly violating the law. The traffic police is busy convincing people to use the standardized number plates issued by the provincial government in yellow color with black letters. This number plate is the same color as car and has letters in silver italics.

Mar 25, 2008 - Society, Yousuf Raza Gilani    No Comments

Boobie groping or Boobie guarding?

Somebody was singing the praises of the newly elected PM Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on an online forum. As I was truly galactically screwed by PM’s protocol the night before, this is what I responded with.
“Yeah Gilani the Groper. In case you have forgotten, it is the same guy who was immortalized in the youtube video where he was trying grope a fellow female politician (hence he will always be remembered by boobie trap) in a rally. He got elected last evening, then flew to Karachi to attend his son’s wedding with Peer Pagara’s grand daughter (in case people here don’t know, Peer Pagara also happens to be Gilani’s khalo or maternal uncle) and blocked the traffic for four hours as every lane near the wedding venue was blocked off. I got stuck at a relative’s home and managed to reach home at 2.00 am after the PM’s protocol party opened the roads.

So, after these elections, we chose a man who became a youtube legend (there are two entries of the same video with over 160,000 views) for groping – but hey, what red blooded Pakistani male would not do that?

The newly elected PM is a close relative of Peer Pagara who defines the word ‘establishment’ which also tells us how ‘independent’ the new PM will be. 

To this, I got this response from a gentleman.
“Alright… that is a news for me! No wonder PIR PAGARA is considered a KING MAKER and everyone seek his blessings to stay in the corridors of power!

Mr. Gillani is a human and he may have got carried away at that time. Or may be, what looked ‘boobie groping’ then could actually be ‘boobie guarding’ in that unruly crowd. We must give that benefit of doubt to our new ‘elected’ leader for the sake of JO QAUM APNAY LEADER KI IZZAT NAHEE KARTI… WHO AGAY NAHEE BADHTI!

Besides, who is a clean person in Pakistan’s politiKs today?”

Boobie guarding, now this is fucking hilarious.

Mar 10, 2008 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

Another one bites the dust

Another women’s day had passed. I was invited to four different events that day, but I chose the one organized by Goethe Institut and Oxford University Press. It was the launch of a book that was the effort of young Pakistani writers. A year ago, young writers’ competition was launched, 600 stories were submitted and only twelve were chosen to be part of the book titled, “Voices & Visions.”

The reason I chose this event was simple; I wanted to avoid the rhetoric that abounds on International Women’s Day. I thought there would be young people talking about literature and philosophy. Sadly, it did not turn out to be like that. There were customary speeches, a few reading by young writers (quite unimpressive, I am afraid) and then came the chief guest Justice (r) Nasira Iqbal and ruined it all.

Before I go any further, let me introduce her. Justice Iqbal is wife of Justice Javed Iqbal and daughter-in-law of Dr. Muhammed Iqbal a.ka. Allama Iqbal. Before this moot, I thought very highly of her, not only for being a woman judge in Punjab High Court but also for continuing education till late in life. She finished off her LLM in her fifties from HarvardLawSchool (Studying in HarvardLawSchool is tough even when one is in their twenties and thirties, but it is a lot more arduous for a woman in her fifties). On March 8th event, she did not talk about either women’s movement (of lack thereof) in Pakistan or the young writers or writing in general. She hijacked the forum and went on and on about the restoration of judiciary, Justice Iftekhar and lawyers movement. In addition, she blithely assumed that every person present is part of the lawyers movement and asked us all to wear a black armband.

Honestly, she lost me after the first 4 sentences and my friend Zeenia and I started talking about how people do not accord the basic courtesy to the spirit of event and hijack it, even Harvard grad retired judges. When she was unable to do justice to her role as the chief guest, what do we expect from her and the movement that is being run by people like her? In my opinion, lawyers too would turn into a ‘bull in the china shop’ like Pakistani media already has. Pakistani media believes that it is above and beyond law and regulation and anything against them is against the freedom of speech. Lawyers would follow suit and don’t even get me started on parliamentarians. Between Zardari and Nawaz Shariff, it has already been decided that no parliamentarians would be tried for corruption. That would leave people like us who have no recourse but stay put, leave the country or die in silence.

I only wished that someone switched her mike off, but was reminded by my friend that it happen only in the assembly and that too when members from opposition speak. I suffered the indignity of her speech in silence (rolling eyes does not count) and left.

Mar 3, 2008 - Uncategorized    4 Comments

It is the personalities stupid!

I know I am a certified cynic and am generally pissed when grown up people (who in my opinion should grow out of their rose tinted glasses at the ripe old age of 8) present a hopeful picture of a future that none of us will see in our lifetimes. Waisay tau I have grievances against a lot of things but it pains me to see that people actually believe that the ongoing struggle for the restoration (!) of judiciary is anything but power struggle between two men (Musharraf and Chaudhry) with mammoth egos (both are delusional enough to think that they are indispensable).

For all my naïve friends who think this struggle is about reclaiming the dignity of the institution of judiciary and not about personalities should know that in Pakistani context, it is always about personalities and almost never about either the institutions or the country.

History provides us with enough evidence. Ayub Khan kicked the civilian govt. out for the betterment of the country, in his opinion of course, and assumed power becasue he thought he was the best man for the job. Pakistani politicians insisted that all cases be dropped against Mujeeb-ur-Rehman (of Awami league) after he was found guilty in Agartilla conspiracy to destabilize Ayub Khan’s govt, because it suited their immediate goal of rattling Ayub Khan (a personality). Z. A. Bhutto refused to hand over the power to the party, Awami League, that was in majority because he wanted to be in power, the country be damned, Bhutto Sahib, the martial law administrator, wanted to relinquish power only to Bhutto Sahib, the PM. No other candidate, even if he was in majority, was worthy enough. Zia hanged Bhutto because he feared that even a jailed Bhutto can be dangerous for his uninterrupted rule. He introduced drugs and small arms and Islamic militancy in the country courtesy over active participation in Afghan war to sustain his stay in power. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Shariff fought it out between the two of them throughout 1990s, each claiming to be the saviour of the country and democracy. Musharaff toppled Sharif’s govt when he heard that the latter sacked him and CJ Chaudhry is striking back because it is now his job that is in the line. It never was about the institution of judiciary and it never will be. If supremacy of judiciary and constitution had been that important to Chaudhry Sahib, he would not have taken oath under the PCO in the first place and served the good general for such a long time. It never was between the president/army and judiciary; the war is between two personalities.

The mantra of all power brokers and politicians – past and present – is simple. Democracy be damned; constitution be damned; judiciary be damned; heck, even the country can go to the dogs, as long as they get to do what they set out to do.

Mar 3, 2008 - Uncategorized    4 Comments

Gher ittefaqiya

I am officially sick of Mr Nawaz Shariff.

His new wardrobe that he acquired in London, while in exile on corruption charges, his pashmina scarves and his head of new, albeit wispy and surprisingly black hair may have fooled some, but I know that not much has changed as far as his mental faculties go. He is still a little thick in the head.

According to a friend, in a rally in Lahore before elections, he asked the people that what kind of a commando is he (Musharraf) that he changed his foreign policy in Afghanistan when a woman called (he meant Condoleeza Rice – Mian sahib was factually incorrect as usual because Condi only became secretary of state in Dubya’s second term, if anyone had called Mush after 9/11, it was most definitely not Condi). He also called him names on account of Article 58 (2) B. The funny thing is that he is abusing mush for 58 (2) B even though he is the only President who did not use it. Ghulam Ishaq Khan used it twice and Leghari used it against his party leader Ms. Bhutto.

His party members have been sitting in a parliament for the past five years and he now calls it unconstitutional. If it was unconstitutional, then why contest elections and the participated in parliamentary affairs for the past 5 years?

Even the post election struggle is all about power. PML-N has selected Shariff brothers as their parliamentary leaders even though none are members of parliament. Can someone please tell them that they have to be elected members of any legislative assembly in order to lead a team of parliamentarians? Imagine, this guy has been our ‘elected leader’ twice and if things remain the way they are, we will have another election soon and will see him donning the cap of PM for the third time. Life is not fair, at least not in Pakistan.